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Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Maya Angelou once said, “I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.” I couldn’t agree more. One of the best skills that I have learned through this illness is to advocate for myself and others. Because there are so many misconceptions about mental illness, you have to be able to defend yourself and how hard you are trying.

For example, one time I was at a hospital where the psychiatrist never came in in-person, he only saw us over zoom. My med adjustments had finally kicked in and I was doing really well, really stable, but every time he saw me, he said I was manic. I told him calmly, I’m sleeping, I’m not making erratic decisions, my speech isn’t pressured, I’m not manic, but he kept insisting and putting me on more and more medicine that I didn’t need. Fortunately, I knew to advocate for myself and calmly presented my case to several other staff members. All of them agreed with me and intervened with the doctor and I was able to go home without too much damage being done.

In another situations, a doctor recently prescribed that I needed to have allergy testing done. I am always really compliant and got it scheduled right away, but then they gave me directions that caused me to pause. In order to do the test, I would have to stop three of my psych meds and two of my physical meds for a week. There’s no way! I knew that it would 100% land me in the hospital, so I called the office and said this was not an option. They told me there was a blood draw option that you didn’t have to come off any meds for, but I needed to get a referral from my PCP or Psychiatrist. I called them both and they were both like, absolutely not, you’re doing the blood test. None of us can understand why they didn’t suggest this in the beginning knowing my history, but my advocacy skills helped me avoid an unnecessary hospital stay.

Another way I had to advocate for myself was when I got home from the residential program and had a hospital bill for $16,000 (after insurance). Now I, like most people in the world, don’t have $16,000 sitting around, so I had no way to pay the bill. My mom and I saw that there was an option for financial aid, but only if you were a resident of Ohio. Through many, many phone calls and sending paperwork I proved that I was indeed a resident because I was living at the residential program, and we, just this week, found out that we have been approved for financial aid. It is unclear how much the bill is going to be now, but any little bit helps.

The most important part of advocating for yourself is to know your rights. You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, to be treated like an adult. You have the right to understand everything that a doctor wants to you to do, and you have the right to tell them know if does not seem safe. You have the right to ask as many questions as you have with out the other party making you feel bad about it. You have the right to tell your story and have the doctor or nurse believe you. If any of these rights are violated, you have the right to stand up for yourself, let them know what you need, and if they still aren’t listening, ask for another doctor or nurse.

You also have the right to have an advocate if you are not able to advocate for yourself because you are too sick or your mental illness is interfering with your ability to think rationally. I make use of this quite often. My mom goes with me to doctors’ appointments where there is going to be a lot of information and we’re not sure I’ll be able to process it all. My best friend went with me to the emergency room once, because I was so sick, I wasn’t able to fight for myself. Make sure you have someone in your life who can help you when you need it. You have the right to help when you need it.

Don’t let yourself be a victim. It is unfair that mental illness, or whatever you are dealing with, is happening to you, but there are things you can do about it. Learn to speak up for yourself. You wouldn’t believe how much standing up for yourself makes it better for others. My standing up for yourself you are making strides towards making life easier for yourself and others. You are making a difference in the field of mental health, and you are making your own life just that much better. You can do it. I know you can!

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